SUPPLEMENT: MARKET RESEARCH; Pushing all the right buttons

From honing TV shows into long-running hits, to getting more accurate feedback from consumer panels, key pads are proving a very effective research tool, says Ken Gofton

From honing TV shows into long-running hits, to getting more accurate

feedback from consumer panels, key pads are proving a very effective

research tool, says Ken Gofton

Fourteen months ago, on board the Canberra, Howell Henry Chaldecott

Lury’s Adam Lury spoke on interactivity. To demonstrate his point, he

came with notes and back-up material on a long list of related topics.

The audience was armed with key pads and invited to vote on which

subject they wanted to hear first.

But Lury went further. In a brave, even foolhardy gesture, he asked the

audience to use the key pads to indicate when they were bored. Once 15%

had lost interest in a topic, everyone voted on what subject he should

turn to next.

Key pads, linked to a computer, are being used increasingly at

conferences to provide an instant analysis of delegates’ opinions and


Similar technology is being used by market researchers in other fields,

especially to test new concepts. This article discusses two techniques

which originated in North America and are now being used in the UK.

Ready Steady Cook

The public doesn’t think a lot about how new programmes arrive on

screen. Presumably, it thinks, someone submits an idea which gets kicked

around by ‘them upstairs’ and then wins approval and a budget, or dies.

Some ideas are obvious winners - like Pride and Prejudice and Cracker -

but others must be absolute dogs which are quietly put to sleep. In

between are those programmes with promise and which can be improved if

their weaknesses are correctly identified and eliminated. Here, as in

other forms of new product development, market research techniques have

a pivotal role.

According to Nino Cirone, director of the Pegram Walters’ subsidiary

Broadcast Research, the situation was a little different with BBC2’s hit

Ready, Steady, Cook. The programme was developed by Bazal Productions,

the producers of Food and Drink, to meet a strategic brief. What was

needed was an alternative to BBC1’s children’s programmes for the late

afternoon audience of mainly older women.

‘In this case, the idea was clearly a good one,’ says Cirone. ‘The

research role was to see if there were ways of tweaking it further.

Ready, Steady, Cook had to hit the ground running, because it was up

against strong competition from quiz shows on Channel 4.’

Ready Steady Cook is half game show and half cookery programme. Two

chefs pit their skills against each other, creating and cooking a dish

in 20 minutes from ingredients they haven’t seen in advance. The

ingredients are provided by two members of the audience, who then act as

the chef’s assistants.

With a pilot edition in the can, Broadcast Research was called in to

gauge its appeal, assess the public’s ‘propensity to view’ and provide

feedback on elements within the programme itself.

The technique, called PEAC, originated in Canada and has been used by

Broadcast Research for more than 50 programming studies in the last five

years. The method is also suitable for testing advertising or

promotions. A sample group watches the programme, each with a hand-held

key pad to relay their reactions to a computer via a radio link. There

are three key elements:

* Moment-by-moment rating of the material - respondents are asked to key

in their reactions throughout a programme on a five-point scale, from

very interesting/enjoyable down to not-at-all interesting/enjoyable. The

results can later be overlaid on the programme as a simple graph

* Pre-coded questions, such as: ‘Is this a good idea for a series’, ‘Is

it for people like me’, ‘Is it easy to follow’, ‘Is it fun?’

* Qualitative discussion with a sample of the respondents, to probe into

why some elements of the programme are liked or disliked, or why the

pace might flag at some point.

Two research sessions were held, one in Yorkshire and one in London,

with 25 viewers at each. Ready, Steady, Cook came through with flying

colours, with the research confirming it as enjoyable and entertaining.

The key lay in its mix of cookery and competition.

Most respondents interpreted it as a cookery programme, with the game

show elements and time pressures adding excitement and the banter

between the contestants passing information on in a friendly way. To the

surprise of the producers, what the viewers liked most about the recipes

were the professional tips on enhancing and presenting the dishes.

But three elements in the pilot programme got the thumbs down. Repeated

chanting by the audience of the catch phrase ‘ready, steady, cook’ was

dismissed as ‘embarrassing’. And the original idea for ending the show,

with the contestants guessing the number of pickled onions in a jar or

the weight of a marrow, seemed to have no link with the rest of the

show. It was the respondents who suggested the ending that was finally

adopted, of having the audience vote which dish was the winner.

Finally, the prizes on offer to the studio participants were criticised.

In the pilot programme, the winner got her last grocery bill paid, which

was seen as ‘nothing special’, while the loser got an ‘insulting’ wooden

spoon. Now the programme’s on air, the winner gets a pounds 100 cheque,

the loser a luxury hamper.

Nine out of ten women and two out of three men thought the programme was

enjoyable and 70% of the total sample thought it was a good idea for a


On these figures, a trial run of 24 programmes, eventually extended to

94, was commissioned to start last autumn. During its run, it became the

most popular daytime non-news programme with housewives. Screening was

increased from three to five times a week and audiences intermittently

averaged over 3 million, against an original target of 1.5 million.

‘It’s a nerve-wracking experience for a producer to see a graph

recording an audience’s second-by-second reactions,’ says Peter

Bazalgette, managing director of Bazal Productions.

‘We knew that the last five minutes were a bit of a mess and the

research helped us sort it out. It enabled us to get the prize structure

acceptable to the viewers and to achieve the right tone - the pilot was

too American.’

‘Mass concept testing’

Marketers know that new product development is the lifeblood of the

business. They also know how the odds are stacked against new products

making the grade.

A team which broke away from Procter & Gamble in the US to form an NPD

consultancy decided that the way to get more winning products was to

start with a lot more concepts. But those ideas would need screening and

- being P&G trained - the team wanted to back their decisions with

figures, not emotional judgements.

A dollars 1m development programme led to a patented system called

AcuPOLL. After running in the US for four years, it has a growing client

list that includes P&G, Johnson & Johnson, Van den Bergh, Colgate

Palmolive, Disney, Pepsi and AT&T. It’s been available in Europe since

April through London-based Q1 International Research. The first study on

this side of the Atlantic was for Colgate - in France, Italy and


Although the main application is different, there are similarities

between AcuPOLL and Broadcast Research’s PEAC. An AcuPOLL session

involves 100-150 consumers, with each respondent given a computer-linked

key pad with numbers running from nought to ten. Over three hours, they

can examine up to 40 concepts and answer 300-400 pre-set questions -

some of them demographic or psychographic - and as the answers are

tapped in, the computer provides instant analysis. At the end, there’s

an opportunity for the moderator to probe more deeply into why some of

the answers were given, which is a key part of the process. It is the

sheer numbers involved that startle some UK researchers. ‘The system is

different and novel and breaks some research rules,’ admits Q1 managing

director Ray Gundersen.

The main area of concern is over what researchers call the ‘order

effect’. Put simply, the more questions interviewees are asked, the more

tired and bored they get, so questions asked towards the end of a

session are likely to produce lower scores than those asked near the

beginning. The conventional solution is to have more frequent, smaller

sessions and to rotate the questions, but with up to 400 questions being

posed, that’s not practicable.

In the early days, AcuPOLL did suffer from ‘order effect’. This has been

overcome, Gundersen claims, by eliminating verbiage from the questions,

by regularly breaking up the sessions with less serious questions - on

lifestyles and so on - and in particular, by modifying the software to

compensate. He believes Q1 can demonstrate that order effect has been

reduced to the point where it is not statistically significant.

Client companies can book full or half sessions exclusive to themselves,

but Q1 also runs omnibus sessions which a number of companies can share

- monthly with panels of housewives, quarterly with teenagers and male

drinkers. The omnibus sessions began in the UK and are now being

extended to the major Continental countries.

The computer produces a mean score for each question and also a simpler

A, B, C or D rating. It is able to compare the scores of all the

concepts being tested on the day, or make comparisons with others in a

database stretching back 18 months. Currently, US tests dominate the

database, but the number of European examples is growing fast.

‘International comparisons are very interesting,’ says Gundersen. ‘You

find the Italians are very extreme - they really like an idea, or they

really reject it. The Germans are more pragmatic. The French and the

Americans are more like the Italians, the British more like the Germans.

‘But when you allow for the different levels of scoring, a good idea is

usually a good idea across all countries. The exceptions are where there

are cultural differences. French housewives love cleaning products

containing bleach, for example, German housewives don’t. And the English

still don’t like the idea of iced tea.’


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